Cynthia Rich on aging, difference and unity

I have had what I believed were strong friendships with women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. But since they had not talked to me about aging, I assumed they had “transcended” it. Their silence on the subject made it seem unimportant, and took away the shame, fear, and guilt. I could have the illusion of the richness of difference without having to confront the reality of difference. It does not occur to me, in 1974, that such an illusion is itself ageist — the shortcut of “we are all women together,” without wanting to hear out the pain of all that has divided us. Today, in 1983, I am not ashamed of that shortcut. It came out of ignorance, but also out of knowledge. It allowed me and other women to make a leap across the forces that throughout history have aligned women with men against other women, set daughter against mother, woman of color against white woman, “lady” against servant, Arab woman against Jew, Puerto Rican woman against Black, prostitute against housewife. We are indeed all women together — our hard work unpaid and unvalued; our thoughts silenced; subject everywhere to rape and battering; in poverty, poorer; in refugee camps, the last to eat. But it should have been obvious to me, even then, that we would need to redefine the path to unity: it would demand hard traveling through a maze of barriers erected to divide us. There can be no simple act of transcendence above those barriers.

From “Cynthia’s Introduction” in Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (Spinsters Ink, 1983).

Originally published on FR on 2/5/2008

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